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Covid-19 rewrites rules for extension services

Joel Mokaya, a Hass Avacado stakeholder at Kisii Agricultural Training Cente. [Sammy Omingo/Standard]

On a normal day, Kisii Agricultural Training College (ATC) would be teeming with nearly 500 farmers who have come for training. But now with social distancing rules to prevent spread of the cruel Covid-19, the numbers have reduced significantly.

“Previously, the more than 20 agricultural extension and field officers in Kisii County would train more than 500 farmers in a week,” says Caroline Kisera, the Livestock Technical Officer at ATC.

But with Covid-19 spreading fast, it is no longer business as usual. The college serves farmers from the larger Homa Bay, Migori, Narok and Nyamira counties. 

New approach

“We are now doing small group trainings in line with social distancing rules. But on a positive note, I now have enough time to prepare for the training. It is easy to handle small groups as compared to the large groupings; they have enough time to ask questions,” says Ms Kisera.

The farm that serves as a training ground and a research centre, has 45 dairy animals, a fish pond, several plots for vegetables and maize as well as nurseries.

To adhere to the social distancing rule, at every session, the trainers work with less than five farmers per session.

Because they handle more than 30,000 per month, to accommodate the numbers, College Principal Doris Ombuna says they are also doing extension services through text messages.

“Technological advances have enabled us to think of new methods of delivering these training and services directly to our farmers. There is an opportunity to full embrace modern farming techniques,” she says.

Despite the restrictions, Esman Onsarigo, the County Executive for Agriculture and Livestock says, there is increased demand for extension services.

“We have seen more inquiries on how to go about farming for profits. Many people have lost their primary sources of income and have turned to farming.”

To Onsarigo, this is a great opportunity to boost the country’s food security.

“We now have an opportunity to train more Kenyans to be professional farmers. This way we will boost our food security.”

The institution is particularly keen on training young farmers as groups or individuals. One farmer shared his experience since Covid-19 hit.

Joel Mokaya an upcoming agriprenuer in Kisii, says the centre has taught him about growing Hass avocado. From the trainings, he started a grafting nursery and us nowselling a seedling at Sh200.

Due to the harsh times, he has lowered the price to Sh150.

“I have learnt a lot from the centre but now there are restrictions on visiting to reduce spread of coronavirus. Market wise, everybody is struggling, and to avoid losing clients, we have reduced our costs significantly.”

In line with safety measures, Mokaya uses the small money he makes to buy sanitisers, hand washing equipment and face masks for use in his farm.

To support farmers like Mokaya, Kisii county government has established an avocado processing plant. The plant will encourage more youth to grow avocado on commercial basis.

“Avocado farming is profitable and low maintenance. We are encouraging more farmers to embrace it,” Governor James Ongwae has been quoted saying.

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